Premier League - Reina off as Liverpool lose again
Liverpool were condemned to a sixth defeat in seven Premier League matches as Andy Carroll was firmly upstaged by Papiss Cisse in a 2-0 win for Newcastle United at St James' Park that ended with another former Magpie, Jose Enrique, having to go in goal following a red card for Jose Reina.
The Liverpool goalkeeper was dismissed after 81 minutes for a headbutt on James Perch and will now be suspended for the FA Cup semi-final against Everton to further deepen the misery of a Reds side that suffered a rather embarrassing afternoon on Tyneside.
No more so than ex-local hero Carroll, abused by the home supporters for leaving the club in a £35 million transfer last January.
Carroll had the perfect chance to demonstrate he is not the expensive flop that many have painted him, but bizarrely chose to dive rather than slot the ball home after rounding Tim Krul early on, earning a booking in the process. When substituted after 80 minutes he went straight down the tunnel and removed his shirt in a show of petulance.
While Liverpool manager Kenny Dalglish, also returning to a former employer, would have felt aggrieved by referee Martin Atkinson's failure to award his side a spot-kick when Danny Simpson sneakily handballed off the line at 0-0, Newcastle were good value for the victory granted them by Cisse's sixth and seventh goals for the club in only his seventh appearance.
The contrast with Carroll was painfully clear when Cisse first produced a glorious header from a Hatem Ben Arfa cross, and then slotted home in composed fashion just before the hour mark as Newcastle secured a third successive victory to draw level with Chelsea again in joint fifth place.
Liverpool, though, remain a point shy of Everton in eighth and are now 11 points behind Sunday's victors. Since the turn of the year only Wolves have collected fewer league points than a side desperately lacking form under the stewardship of Dalglish.
The Liverpool manager responded to last weekend's defeat at home to Wigan by dropping Dirk Kuyt, Jordan Henderson and Stewart Downing, with young midfielder Jonjo Shelvey handed only his second league start for the club. Liverpool lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, with Carroll flanked by the tireless Craig Bellamy - another Toon old-boy - and Luis Suarez.
Newcastle also opted for an attacking trident as Demba Ba and Cisse were joined by Ben Arfa, but the absence of Fabricio Coloccini gave their defence a vulnerable look as James Perch came into the centre and Jonas Gutierrez dropped to left-back. At least the return of Cheick Tiote from injury gave them a more robust midfield.
The returning Carroll - a native of Newcastle - was called "Judas" when arriving at St James' Park prior to kick-off and enthusiastically booed throughout, though the antipathy was surely misguided. Newcastle recouped £35 million when selling him to Liverpool and, prior to kick-off, had seen Ba and Cisse - signed for a combined £9m - score 21 goals between them this season. Carroll, by contrast, had only scored five since moving to Anfield on January deadline day, 2011.
A keenly-fought first half rested on the respective contributions of Newcastle's former owner of the number nine shirt and Cisse, the man who eventually assumed it when joining the club from Freiburg in January.
Carroll had the chance to quieten his critics in the Gallowgate End with only nine minutes played. The striker won the ball in the air on the left, skipped inside Perch with a lovely touch and then drove into the box to draw Krul towards him. After touching the ball past the keeper, though, he bizarrely opted to dive rather than trying to slot the ball home, and was shown a yellow card as gleeful derision rolled down from the stands.
This shameful act of simulation saw Carroll drawn into a testy exchange with former manager Alan Pardew and, his inexplicable dive aside, the striker was a constant irritant to the home team. His presence alone caused Mike Williamson to glance a corner with his arm and when the ball bounced towards goal as a result, Simpson flexed his own arm to knock it round the post. It should have been a penalty and a red card but was crucially missed by referee Martin Atkinson.
Liverpool had also seen a deflected cross from Bellamy tipped onto the top of the bar by Krul, yet their inability to find the net - a shortcoming that has plagued them all season - was punished once again when Newcastle went in front after 19 minutes.
Ben Arfa was the creator with a good bit of skill to lose Jay Spearing and a delicious cross to find Cisse lurking behind the culpable Skrtel at the far post. The striker's header back across goal and in off the inside of the post was perfect.
Though Ben Arfa's lovely touches were the aesthetic highlight of the half, Carroll and Cisse remained the central protagonists: the Liverpool striker nodded over the bar under pressure from Krul as the ball popped up to him following a cross from Bellamy, while Cisse headed wide when connecting with a fine delivery from Guthrie just prior to the break.
Facing yet another Premier League defeat, Liverpool allowed Newcastle to take the initiative after half time and Williamson was inches away from making it 2-0 after 48 minutes when his towering header from a cross from the right struck the base of the post.
When Newcastle did extend their lead, there was a whiff of controversy about the goal. Cisse was clearly yards offside when Ba rolled a pass into the area, but was not when Ben Arfa appeared to make the briefest contact with the ball to turn it into his path. Either way, Cisse was ruthless with the finish, side-stepping Reina and taking a touch before slotting his effort past Skrtel on the line.
Liverpool were denied a quick response when Suarez snatched at his shot with Krul stranded and could only fire his effort against Perch, who produced a fine block to save his team.
However, Perch's role in Reina's dismissal was far less admirable. Having tripped the Liverpool goalkeeper after he collected the ball in the box, Perch then exaggerated the contact made by the Spain international as Reina pressed his head into the Newcastle defender's. Reina had to go ,but the sight of Perch rolling around the floor was no less edifying as a result.
Having made three substitutions, Liverpool were forced to put Enrique in goal, much to the delight of his former supporters. The left-back remained unbeaten, but a bruised Liverpool side were still left to contemplate another damaging league defeat.